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I play a roguelike now and then and the term "savescum" comes up fairly often. What does it mean, and where did the term come from?

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Savescumming generally refers to the practice of reloading a saved game prior to a random event, repeatedly, until a favorable outcome is achieved.

The term originated in the Roguelike community, as the genre is known for the frequent occurrence of perma-death as a feature - in that community, any use of saved games to recover from a fatal mistake or poor roll of the dice, rather than restarting the game entirely, is considered to be unsporting or 'scummy' behavior.

These days, the term is often used in a variety of genres to refer to abuse of reloaded saves to yield optimal results.

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"Scumming" is a general term for performing an action repeatedly in a game in order to yield optimal results. It is originally from roguelike games, where you're typically expected to deal with an ever-increasing difficulty level as the game progresses. Any action you take in order to avoid this difficulty curve is considered scumming.

For instance, in many Roguelikes dungeon levels are randomly generated, and may or may not contain certain powerful items. If you were to repeatedly force a floor to be regenerated (by going up and down stairs between levels repeatedly), this would be called "stair scumming." Some roguelikes (notably Angband and its derivatives) actually have this as a feature - you can ask the game to repeatedly re-roll levels every time you go down a staircase until it generates an "optimal" or "unique" variant.

Save scumming in particular is the use of save files to achieve a "scummy" result - for instance, backing up your save right before opening a chest, and then if the chest doesn't contain the item you want, reloading the save and trying again.

Some games, such as Nethack, contain code that reject a save file if it is not the "original" copy of the file. Other games, such as XCOM: Enemy Unknown, store the random seed in the save file, so that if you save before performing a particular action, the result will be the same if you perform that action again after a load. Like all anti-cheat systems, these can be bypassed by a dedicated save-scummer.

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Even if game stores seed, this often can be worked around by provoking it to call RNG with some other, preferably non-gameplay action. –  Oleg V. Volkov Dec 19 '12 at 9:25
    
Depending on the game type, even other game play actions can be used to exploit a stored RNG seed. ex In the Civ games, your tank probably will win no matter what the RNG result is if squashing a spearman the AI inexplicably kept into the 20th century; but the result of the roll will matter when another tank is trying to dig out entrenched infantry. A methodical save-scummer can exploit differentials like that readily. –  Dan Neely Dec 19 '12 at 19:49
    
Yes - there are ways to get around a saved RNG value. I tried to call this out (... before performing a particular action, the result will always be the same) but apparently this is not clear enough for you guys :) I will attempt to revise. –  agent86 Dec 19 '12 at 19:53
    
For an interesting look at the use of non-gameplay actions to change the value of a RNG, try searching for "monopoly nes speedrun" - they pull some interesting tricks to bust all the CPU opponents out in their first couple of turns. –  agent86 Dec 19 '12 at 19:57

It is the process of reloading a save for the purpose of redoing something to achieve what you perceive to be a more desirable outcome. The accepted exception to this is if a game crashes without you deliberately causing it to do so and you have to replay from the last legitimate on application close save which results in ending up at a different spot when you recover where you were. (This is why roguelikes would not usually delete your save after loading, but some very hardcore players will expect all games to be terminal--if you do not save and quit your save is gone end of story.)

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